It’s been known for more than six months that JetBlue would be rolling out fare families and introducing a bag fee on the lowest fare category. What we didn’t know was when it would finally happen. Sure enough, the airline flipped the switch on its new fare families on Tuesday. The result? I like the idea, though I was hoping it would have been done just a bit differently.
You may have seen JetBlue’s fare family comparison chart. But just in case you haven’t, I thought I’d put together a slightly-modified version to help you understand what your options are.
Sooo, yeah, some of this is not true at all (see the original here), but the point JetBlue is making with these families is clear. The Blue fare is for people who are NOT checking bags. The Blue Plus fare is for people who are. And the Blue Flex fare is for those who expect to make changes. That basic selling proposition is great, and it would be easy for most people to make a decision.
First, the bag fees. JetBlue is going to revenue-manage the buy-up prices, but at least to start, a Blue Plus fare will be roughly $15 more than a Blue fare each way. If you need ot check a bag, buy the Blue Plus fare for $15 more instead of paying $20 to check in a la carte. And when you do, you’ll also get bonus miles when you book at jetblue.com and you’ll get a $10 to $15 reduction in the change fee if you need to make a change. It’s a no-brainer if you need to check a bag, at this point. We’ll see how that changes when they start to vary the buy-up.
Second, the change fees. Back in 2013, JetBlue went to a new change fee policy that, while complex, was more fair than what others had done. Any changes made more than 60 days before departure would have a flat $75 change fee. After that, it was tiered based on your fare. Fares under $100 had a $75 change fee. Fares between $100 and $149 had a $100 change fee. And fares $150 and above had a $150 change fee. Here’s what’s changing.
I didn’t include the Mint change fees because those were always a bit goofy. But for those who care, it’s $75 for nonstop fares under $950 and for connecting fares under $1,350 outside of 60 days. It’s $150 within 60 days. Any fares above those levels have no change fee.
Still with me? Good. So the fare difference between Blue Plus and Blue Flex is pegged to be in the $85 range to start. The biggest benefit is that you have no change fee if you need to switch things up. Assuming most changes get made within 60 days of travel, then if you have an expensive ticket, this will pay for itself after one change. Even if you have a mid-priced ticket, then you almost make up the difference, but you also get a second bag for free and even more bonus points if you book online. Oh, and you get priority security too. So basically, unless your ticket is under $100, this is probably a good deal assuming you’re already paying for Blue Plus to get that bag.
But wait, there’s more.
Let’s say you’re flying to Santo Domingo, Santiago, Port-au-Prince, Port of Spain, Kingston, Cartagena, Medellín, Bogota, Lima or Mexico City. Well in those cases, even a regular Blue fare includes a checked bag just like a Blue Plus fare. To me, this makes no sense. If you want to have your lowest fare include a free bag, then just only offer Blue Plus in those markets and not Blue. It’s confusing. (Of course, these are the markets where people try to check washing machines and tires, so it’s going to be a mess no matter what.)
The biggest question for me was around how JetBlue would introduce these families in terms of pricepoint. I was hoping that the airline would do the honorable thing and make the previous pricepoint the Blue Plus fare and then give a discount for the Blue fare. That would have been the customer-friendly way to roll this out. I’m not stupid. I fully understand that when you do it that way, you then just wait a couple months and push through a fare increase which gets you where you want to go. But the optics of doing it that way make the most sense. That’s not what JetBlue did, at least not in the markets I’ve searched.
Overall, how do I feel about this? I like it. I like fare families even though there’s a tax penalty for selling tickets this way. (A la carte fees aren’t taxed at 7.5 percent whereas fares are.) But I spoke to JetBlue EVP Commercial and Planning Marty St George about that, and he said there were three reasons why they went this way. First, they want it to be transparent so customers know what they’re getting up front. Second, they have had “great success” revenue-managing the Even More product and they think they can do that here too. Third, this will help reduce the workload at the airport by having people purchase bags up front more often. I get that.
So I do like what the airline has done here. It’s a far more customer-friendly way to roll out a bag fee than what other carriers have done. I just wish it had been done a bit differently.